FORTEAU, NL – Joe Hancock is gearing up for his fourth run of Cain’s Quest with a new snowmobile and a new partner.
Hancock says his love of the snowmobiling craft is what keeps him coming back to the extensive and often-gruelling Cain’s Quest race.
“I just love the outdoors, scouting Labrador and snowmobiling,” said Hancock. “I’ve had snowmobiles ever since I was big enough to have one, and I still love it just as much today as I did in the beginning.”
Running again as Labrador South Racing, Hancock will be teaming up with 28-year-old Blair Roberts of L’Anse-au-Loup this year. Hancock’s previous partner, Myles O’Brien, will be racing with his son Murray.
It will be Roberts’ first time partaking in the race, which treks through some of the most remote landscapes of Labrador, but he was on the support crew for Labrador South Racing last year.
“The guys told me when I went on the support crew I’d never want to do the race itself,” Roberts said. “But it made me want to do it even more.”
Through this experience with Cain’s Quest, Roberts saw just how many obstacles can turn a race sour or successful. With this knowledge and a veteran like Hancock on his team, Roberts feels he will know what to expect when the challenges arise.
“You’re subject to so many variables, so many things can happen that are out of your control,” he said. “If anything does go wrong that is fixable, we feel like we’re ready for it.”
Labrador South Racing and O’Brien’s team, M & M Racing, are now engaging in training along the Churchill Falls area. Hancock says navigation is the most important aspect of the race.
“There’s definitely an advantage in knowing the area, and I’ve snowmobiled through a lot of that area over the years,” Hancock said. “I’ve looked through all the tracks I’ve done and spent a fair bit of time studying them.”
The snow machine’s durability is also key. Hancock has retired the Yamaha he usually races with for a new 2018 Polaris Titan. He’s recently had some suspensions taken out and reinforcements installed to have the machine in top shape for racing.
Leading up to their on-going training, Roberts has been working night shifts at Muskrat Falls. He says he’s been keeping limber, knowing from his experience on the support crew just how tiresome the race can really be.
“I train physically as much as possible,” said Roberts. “They got a pretty good gym here at Muskrat so I hit the gym everyday.”
Hancock is happy that some younger blood is now entering the race and he can do his part to pass the sport on to the next generation.
He says it’s surprising how the excitement and interest in Cain’s Quest seems to grow every year.
“You’d be surprised the amount of people that are into it,” said Hancock. “People come up to you since the race saying, ‘You know, we were rooting for you and following you,’ from people you’d think wouldn’t even be interested in it.”
Roberts says the comradery the race creates between people is amazing; everyone is there to be competitive and win but also to help one another when the situation arises.
As the March 2 date for the race approaches, Roberts looks forward to the experience and challenge of a lifetime.
“It’s an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors as best as I can, a good challenge to prepare for and occupy your mind,” he said. “For me, I’m used to putting 500 kilometres on a ski-doo anyway.”